The Rideau Canal: A UNESCO World Heritage Site In Canada

The Rideau Canal in Ottawa.
The Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

The Rideau Canal was designated as a cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 2007, recognized as a historical and recreational heritage. It has been a National Historic site in Canada since 1925. The 125.5 miles long waterway acts as a link between the city of Ottawa and the city of Kingston, Ontario. The word Rideau translates to curtain in French and it was named from the curtain-like appearance formed where the Rideau River’s twin waterfalls meet the Ottawa River. The canal is also informally known as the Rideau Waterway.

History Of The The Rideau Canal

The plan to build the canal was conceived after the War of 1812 was fought between the Americans and the British. The Americans had wanted to launch an attack in the British Colony of Upper Canada by way of the St. Lawrence River. Had the American intention been executed, the lifeline between Kingston and Montreal would have been jeopardized. The Rideau Canal was intended to connect Montreal and Kingston to facilitate secure supply and establish a communication route. St. Lawrence River bordered the American State of New York, and the British wanted to bypass it altogether. Lieutenant-Colonel John By, a member of the Royal Engineers, was tasked with the canal’s supervision. The construction was done by numerous private contractors and thousand of French-Canadian and Irish laborers. Work to build the canal began in 1826 ending in 1832. No military engagements took place between the Americans and the British after the canal was built, but it became an essential element to the development of Canada. It facilitated the transportation of immigrants as well as goods.

The Rideau Waterway

In addition to using a section of the Rideau and Cataraqui Rivers, the Canal also incorporates parts of some lakes such as the Big Rideau and the Lower Lakes. Of the 125.5miles length of the canal, about 12 miles is human-made. The Canal has facilitated the development of several communities along its path including Portland, Ottawa, Smiths Falls, Kingston, Kars, and the Rideau Ferry. Other communities are linked by navigable waterways to the canal include Perth and Kemptville. Built along the canal are 45 locks at 23 stations in addition to two locks located at the entry point to the Tay Canal. The majority of the locks are still hand-operated. The canal was built to accommodate boats of up to 22 feet in height, 90 feet in length, 26 feet in width and with a draft of 4 ft 11 inches. However, the canal can accommodate a boat of up to 30 ft in width and 110 ft in length in special operations.

Uses Of The Rideau Canal

The channel is primarily used by pleasure boats. Boat tours can be arranged in Kingston, Chaffeys Lock, Ottawa, and Merrickville. During winter, part of the Rideau Canal along central Ottawa attracts tourists as the largest skating rink in the world. It stretches for 4.8 miles and also hosts the Winterlude festival in Ottawa. This skating rink is unique since it occurs naturally, a fact that led to its recognition by the Guinness Book of World Records. The rink operates 24 hours a day between January and March.


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